CULT CLASSIC: PETER WALKER-“SECOND POEM TO KARMELA” OR GYPSIES ARE IMPORTANT.
Cult Classic: Peter Walker-Second Poem To Karmela” Or Gypsies Are Important.
Back in 1967, Peter Walker released his seminal album Rainy Day Raga, which was released on Vanguard Records. Since then, it’s become a cult classic. Many people though, thought Rainy Day Raga wa his only album. It wasn’t and The following year, 1968, Peter released his sophomore album “Second Poem To Karmela” Or Gypsies Are Important,
It picks up where Rainy Day Raga left off, and proceeds to take things much further. So much so, that “Second Poem To Karmela” Or Gypsies Are Important has been described as: “the missing link between Ravi Shankar, Sandy Bull and Timothy Leary, in more ways than one.” This quotation makes “Second Poem To Karmela” Or Gypsies Are Important an album the everyone must hear once in their life. It showcases the considerable talents of a truly talented musician whose.
Peter Walker was born in 1938 and grew up in Medford, just north of Boston. His father played the guitar, and aged three, Peter first picked up the guitar. He was hooked. Having broken the strings on the guitar, his parents bought him a mandolin. This was an important part of Peter’s musical education.
By the time he was a teenager, his parents had decided that Peter should be a musical all-rounder. So, he Peter played brass, woodwinds, piano and later, harmonica. The guitar came later.
That came after Peter ran away from home. This was the real thing. Peter spent time travelling round America. Incredibly, he was still in the early years of high school. On his return, Peter took up the guitar. Sadly, Peter wasn’t given any encouragement.
Far from it. His stepfather was far from happy about Peter’s decision to take up the guitar. There was no stopping him though. Looking back, Peter thinks it was his way of connecting with his father, who he still missed after his parent’s split-up. While Peter played guitar, he was broadening his musical taste.
Using a radio that he’d hidden under his bed, Peter started listening to the Grand Ole Opry. Soon, his musical tastes broadened. Blues, folk, gospel, R&B and rock ’n’ roll. Peter was hooked.
So much so, that he started learning the songs he heard on his radio. He bought a capo and started learning all the keys. One of the first songs he learnt, was The House Of The Rising Sun. Soon, he realised that playing guitar made him popular.
Out of all of the ten-thousand students at the University of Cincinnati in 1957, only two people played the guitar. So, this more or less guaranteed them invites to any campus parties. After college, Peter became a beatnik. This was around 1958 or 1959.
Back in 1957, Jack Kerouac had released his seminal classic On The Road, a book which inspired dreams and for the lucky ones, road trips and easy living. Peter lived the dream. With his guitar for company, he hung around North Beach, San Francisco. It was during this time, Peter honed his sound. By night, Peter lived above the Bagel Shop in Grant Avenue. During this time, Peter met a cast of colourful characters.
Among them were Jim Gurley, who later, would find fame with Big Brother and The Holding Company. He was taking his first steps musically, as he learnt to play the guitar. Then there Brownie McGhee, Sonny Terry, Josh White, Jose Feliciano, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Joan Baez, The Jim Jweskin Jug Band and Karen Dalton. Indeed, it was Peter who lent Karen Dalton the long-necked banjo that she plays on her classic album In My Own Time. All this was part of Peter’s development as a musician.
So were the early sixties. Peter was combining his time working a regular job and honing his musical style. This included hearing Ravi Shankar live. In 1962, Peter had bought a 100 string sarangi in 1962. He saw it in the window of a shop and was intrigued. Two years later, in 1964, Peter saw Ravi live. His music would go on to influence Peter’s debut. However, by then, Peter had been on a road trip.
The death of President Kennedy had affected Peter. He headed off, after believing his life was destroyed. During Kennedy’s presidency Peter had travelled back and forward between Mexico, buying guitars. After Kennedy’s assassination, Peter headed off on the mother of road trips.
First of all he headed to Spain. With the help of the US Consulate, Peter found a Flamenco teacher. This was Senor Pappas, who Peter addressed as Maestro. Throughout the winter, which he spent in Spain and North Africa, Peter studied Flamenco. Then when he headed back to America, he heard Ravi Shankar and began studying Indian music.
Hearing Ravi Shankar live inspired Peter. He headed down to Mexico and using a stereo he’d borrowed from his friend John Barrymore’s car, set about copying Ravi Shankar’s technique on the guitar. It took seven long months of playing along with a tape played at half-speed before Peter achieved what he set out to do. Being able to play both Flamenco and make his guitar sound like Ravi Shankar would result in a captivating debut album.
That would come later. Before that, John Barrymore Jr. took Peter under his wing. They’d become good friends. So, John showed around Hollywood. John introduced Peter as if he was a guitar maestro. Peter enjoyed his spell in Hollywood, but decided to return to New York.
Back in New York, Peter and Monte Dunn started playing together. Peter also played sessions at Columbia and had a residency at Cafe Au Go Go. It was there that a representative of Vanguard Records heard Peter. They liked what they heard, came backstage and offered Peter a contract on the spot.
Delighted, Peter accepted Vanguard Records offer. He set about recording his debut album Rainy Day Raga. Peter penned nine tracks and covered Lennon and McCartney’s Norwegian Wood. On its release in 1967, Rainy Day Raga seemed to pass most people by. It wasn’t a commercial success. Rainy Day Raga was described as: “the perfect L.S.D. soundtrack.” Since then, Rainy Day Raga has become a cult classic. Most people thought that was the end of the Peter Walker story. It wasn’t.
Following Rainy Day Raga, Peter began work on his sophomore album “Second Poem To Karmela” Or Gypsies Are Important. He wrote nine tracks and cowrote Mixture with Michael Chechik which were recorded and mixed at Vanguard Records’ Vanguard’s 23rd Street Studio.
As recording of “Second Poem To Karmela” Or Gypsies Are Important began at Vanguard Records’ Vanguard’s 23rd Street Studio, Peter would be accompanied by a talented band. This included flautist Jim Pepper, organist Michael Chechik, violinist John Blair and Jim Hotep on tabla. Midnite added tamboura and ondiolines came courtesy of New York Tactical Force. Peter played sarod, guitar and sitar. Producing “Second Poem To Karmela” Or Gypsies Are Important was Michael Chechik. Once “Second Poem To Karmela” Or Gypsies Are Important was completed, it was released in 1968.
When “Second Poem To Karmela” Or Gypsies Are Important was released in 1968, lightning stuck twice. It wasn’t a commercial success. Neither critics nor music lovers picked up on “Second Poem To Karmela” Or Gypsies Are Important. Again, it passed them by. Since then, only a small group of music lovers with eclectic tastes have appreciated “Second Poem To Karmela” Or Gypsies Are Important, which I’ll tell you about.
Opening “Second Poem To Karmela” Or Gypsies Are Important is Second Song. Wistful, eerie and exotic describes the arrangement. That’s before the drums gallop away and a flute cascades. The guitar is transformed in Peter’s hand. It takes on an Indian sound. That’s down to the tuning. As for his playing, his hands flit up and down the fretboard. It’s mesmeric. He joins forces with the drums and flute. There’s an urgency, fluidity and passion in their playing.
From the distance, an Eastern sound emerges. It’s captivating. So is Peter’s playing on I and Thou. Slow, careful and tenderly he plays his guitar. Behind him, subtly, instruments accompany. They weave in and out. Tamboura and tabla combine. However, it’s Peter’s playing that has your attention. His guitar has become an extension of him and his emotions. It’s as if his emotion, fears and frustrations flow through him to his guitar on this Flamenco influenced track.
Just Peter’s lone guitar opens Southwind. He plucks thoughtfully and gently at his guitar. Miles Davis believed space is left within the arrangement. So does Peter. Here, it adds to the drama. As do the tabla and flute. Together, they ask an unanswerable question. Peter and the flute match each other every step of the way for drama. Peter’s playing is exquisite. Jim Pepper’s flute proves a perfect foil for Peter.
Tenderly, but beautifully and soon, urgently Tear unfolds. Peter has your attention. Unaccompanied, he plays a spellbindingly beautiful solo. His playing veers between tender, strident, stark and melancholy. Heartache and hurt are ever-present and you can imagine a Tear falling.
Barefoot features a myriad of influences. Gradually, they all merge into one. Straight away, there’s the influence of Ravi Shankar. It comes courtesy of Peter’s guitar and tabla. Then a flute later joins gypsy violins. They’re played urgently, creating a joyous sounding track which you could dance Barefoot and carefree to.
Subtly and wistfully, Peter strums his guitar Gypsy Song, Tabla tremble and gypsy violins lay bare their soul. They’re played with tenderness and emotion. Meanwhile, the flute flutters above the arrangement. Even when the tempo rises, melancholy and soul-searching describes this track.
Circus Day has a similar wistful sound. Peter plays his thoughtfully and slowly. His playing takes on a sense of urgency. So much so, that it’s as if the flute is trying to reassure him. Try as it might, it can’t. Gradually, the arrangement grows. So does the Indian influence. Tabla and saron accompany the flute as they play with urgency, speed and fluidity. Somehow, they keep this up throughout the day, as of trying to replicate the happiness and joy Circus Day brings.
Blake Street veers between folk and Flamenco. Confidently, Peter plays the guitar. His playing is strident. Then as you think he’s about to change tack and head of in another direction, the song is over. Your left wondering what it might have become?
Tabla set the scene on Socco Chico. They march ominously towards you. When Peter plays the sarod, it’s thoughtfully and tenderly. He then plays his guitar with confidence. Meanwhile, the flute cascades across above the arrangement. It makes you think of an eagle in full flight. Later, Peter’s guitar playing becomes urgent. So do the tabla and flute during this dramatic opus.
Mixture which closes “Second Poem To Karmela” Or Gypsies Are Important, has a different sound. That’s because of new instruments, including an organ, ondiolines and sitar. There’s even tapes playing backwards. Slow, surreal and psychedelic describes this track. To that, I’d add moody and eerie. Meandering along, it proceeds to spring a series of sonic surprises, musical genres melt into one. Gypsy violins and tablas, psychedelia, jazz and rock combine to create a lysergic melange that closes “Second Poem To Karmela” Or Gypsies Are Important on a hypnotic high.
For Peter Walker, the commercial failure of “Second Poem To Karmela” Or Gypsies Are Important must have been ironic. The title “Second Poem To Karmela” is a reference to the book Sibbartha, which is the story of a man seeking enlightenment. Once he’s become enlightened, he decides to his newly enlightened self in the material. It’s during this part of his life, the man meets Karmela, a beautiful woman. Despite this, and his newly enlightened state, he decides to return to his monastic life. For Peter this must have struck a nerve. Having failed to enlighten music lovers, he turned his back on music.
For thirty-eight years, Peter Walker was lost to music. It was in 2006, that Peter made his comeback, when he recorded Second Raga For Peter Walker. After thirty-eight years in self-imposed exile, one of music’s innovators made his return. However, what might have Peter have achieved during this thirty-eight year period? Who knows? He may have become one of the most influential and innovative artists of his generation? We’ll never know. What I do know is that Peter Walker’s self-imposed exile was music’s loss.
It only takes one listen to Second Poem To Karmela” Or Gypsies Are Important to realise this. It’s a truly innovative and influential genre-melting album. Lysergic, experimental and groundbreaking, Peter Walker was ahead of his time. That’s nothing new.
A whole host of artists have suffered the same fate. However, not all of these artists walk away from music for thirty-eight years. Peter Walker did, leaving behind two minor classics. The first of these is Rainy Day Raga in 1967. A year later, Peter Walker released his second cult classic “Second Poem To Karmela” Or Gypsies Are Important which sadly. has been overlooked since its release in 1968. Thankfully, Peter Walker’s groundbreaking, genre-melting sophomore album “Second Poem To Karmela” Or Gypsies Are Important is starting to find the wider audience it so richly deserves.
Cult Classic: Peter Walker-Second Poem To Karmela” Or Gypsies Are Important.